I watched the Cummings interview last night. Much of it I found plausible. The sense that he, as someone who is good at what he does, even if extremely unwise and deeply misguided, might have found it incredibly difficult to work with the elected dimwits, from Johnson onwards, who form our government, was really not very hard to believe.
That there was a fight between Carrie Johnson and Cummings also appears entirely plausible. That only one could win seems true. That she did was not certain, but has very obviously happened. That Johnson is now isolated with a single adviser seems likely. That the pair of them almost certainly see plotting all around them, and so choose to keep Johnson out of the glare of scrutiny, policy making and much else, seems a logical conclusion. If that means we have government by incapacity, the evidence is all around us.
But why did Cummings do it? And why did the BBC?
Cummings first. In his case I am sure the three motivations were revenge, fear and desire. The revenge is obvious. He said he was indifferent as to whether he talked to Johnson again. In a sense I believe that. But that does not mean he has forgiven him for choosing Carrie. I very strongly sense revenge.
The fear is of prosecution. The UK has suffered, and is about to again, suffer exceptional Covid deaths as a consequence of exceptional Covid policy. There is a risk of prosecution in that. Cummings is getting his defence, that he was actually the good guy in the room who got sacked for it, in early. He’s ratting on the rest now in his own defence. That may be wise. I believe his tales of Johnson’s indifference, and the stories of rule bound incompetence.
The desire is to taste power again. Is he really thinking of taking over another political party having already admitted supporting an entryist takeover of the Tories that is really not going to well for the UK as a whole? I am not sure anyone is going to fall for that again. But you can sense his belief that he does know the answers, and a frustration that he knows no way to deliver them within first past the post system, which he seems to have no desire to overthrow. My suggestion is he accepts that his moment has passed, and that his damage is done. I got the very real sense he does not share that view.
So why did the BBC do it? That’s harder to tell. It may have simply been the desire for a big set piece that rocks the course of events in the Maitlis / Prince Andrew style. There could have been nothing more to it than that.
But I don’t believe that. As Laura Kuenssberg asked at one point, who was using who? Cummings used her, without a doubt. But I strongly suspect the BBC had an agenda. It’s my suspicion - I rate it at no more than that - that they sense Johnson is on his way out. And they are wanting to play a role in their own self defence.
Johnson is, I suspect they think, as isolated as Cummings suggests. He is also, as is obvious, lacking any sound advice. The consequence is clear: his instinctive, short-term, lie based populism is heading to be disastrous. The vaccine bounce is nearly over. The point at which he comes a liability as another lockdown becomes essential in the face of an impending or actual NHS crisis is fast approaching. The BBC senses his day is nearly done. They want to claim a stake in his demise. Their hope is a better deal from the next incumbent.
I am happy to be called cynical for thinking in this way. This, though, is what political economy asks. Who has the power? Who is making the compromises? How is the deal being shaped? Why is that? Is the balance of power shifting? If so, in what direction? And with what possible outcome? Most particularly, do those partaking understand that?
My suspicion is that Kuenssberg and the BBC understood this better than Cummings. If desire really motivated him most of all (and I think him vain enough to believe it did) then he made a mistake in revealing that. But the BBC did get what it wanted, which was the evidence of a prime minister and administration that is out of control and fast heading nowhere.
Who wins? Actually, I think we do. I do think this interview may help tilt the political balance against Johnson. If so, it was worthwhile. But one has to hope Cummings’ career is over, just as much.